NOAA 2002-R133
Contact: Delores Clark
NOAA News Releases 2002
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The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service is issuing a reminder that approaching or harassing monk seals is unlawful and can result in fines and possibly imprisonment. Hawaiian monk seals are one of the most endangered mammals in the United States, and have one of the highest levels of protection, yet are still being harassed on Hawaii beaches.

NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement - Southwest Division has responded to a variety of seal harassment calls. Some incidents have involved direct acts of harassment, with rocks thrown at the seals, while other have involved inappropriate attempts to make the animals pose for photos.

Occasionally, people approach the seals with good intentions. Hawaiian monk seals rest on the shorelines and rocks to avoid predators, give birth, care for pups, or moult (the annual shedding of old hair). However, this is sometimes mistaken for "stranding," associated with whales or dolphins when those animals swim onto shore and can not return to the water.

"We are concerned about people who try to either force seals back into the water because they think the animals are in trouble, or remove seals from the beach because they think the animals are sick or hurt," said Assistant Special Agent in Charge John Reghi, NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement - Southwest Division. "Unfortunately, the good intentions of some people may not be in the seals' best interest, and may result in a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act."

Reghi said it is normal for seals to rest for hours on the beach or rocks and does not necessarily indicate the seal is in trouble.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 is a federal law that was established to protect seals and all species of marine mammals. Under the MMPA and its corresponding regulations, it is illegal to harass or feed marine mammals in the wild. Violations of the MMPA can result in civil penalties of up to $12,000, criminal fines of up to $20,000 and jail time.

To avoid harassment of seals, "NOAA Fisheries Seal Watching Guidelines" recommends that people observe the animals from a safe distance of at least 50 yards, limit viewing time to 30 minutes or less, avoid making loud noises or abrupt movements, and keep pets on a leash.

For seal harassment guidelines, contact the Office for Law Enforcement hotline at 800-853-1964.

For seals in distress contact the 24-hour stranding hotline number 888-256-9840.

"We have trained animal handlers in our federal marine mammal stranding network who are authorized by NOAA Fisheries to respond to seals in need of assistance," said Dr. Janet Whaley, the national marine mammal stranding coordinator for NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources in Silver Spring, Md. "Stranding network members have special training and expertise for responding to sick or injured marine mammals. People should notify the proper authorities if they encounter a sick or stranded animal. Distressed animals can be dangerous and bite, and should only be handled by trained professionals."

NOAA Fisheries is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

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